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Man crushed by concrete panel

MEDIA RELEASE

23 April 2008


Man crushed by concrete panel highlights need to monitor hazards


The Department of Labour says the court decision yesterday ordering an employer to pay $90,000 for failing to ensure its employees weren’t exposed to hazards sends a clear message to industry.

Fulton Hogan Limited, a major roading and infrastructure construction company, was sentenced to pay a fine of $40,000 in the Balclutha District Court yesterday following the death of a worker who was crushed when a seven-tonne pre-cast concrete panel fell on him. The company was also ordered to pay $50,000 as reparation to the family.

Stewart Michie, a 72-year-old part-time finishing plasterer at Fulton Hogan’s concrete manufacturing plant in Balclutha, was killed on 5 July 2007.

Fulton Hogan pleaded guilty to one charge under the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992, relating to the failure to take all practicable steps to ensure that Mr Michie was not exposed to hazards arising from the storage of the pre-cast panel.

The Department’s Workplace Services regional manager Sheila McBreen-Kerr said the law required a preventative approach to maintaining and promoting health and safety in the workplace.

“Employers have a positive duty to clearly identify hazards in workplaces, to determine whether they are significant and if they are, to eliminate them, isolate them, or minimise them.”

Employers also need to monitor work practices, Ms McBreen-Kerr said. “In this case it was found that its workers had not stored panels in the way the company had expected them to. But the panel wasn’t stored safely and the Department’s investigation revealed other panels were stored in the same way.”

Fulton Hogan should have further investigated the potential hazards arising from the storage of such panels in ‘toast racks’, she said. The ‘toast racks’, which were freestanding in the yard, were made up of a steel base with tynes welded to it at right angles. There was no lateral bracing between each of the toast racks, but rather they relied on the panels stored in them to provide lateral stability. The inspector found that the way the panel was placed in the rack over half of the panel height was above the tynes on the rack.

‘Toast racks’ are commonly used to store pre-cast concrete panels, both at the point of manufacture and on construction sites. Workers throughout New Zealand were exposed to possible ‘tip overs’ of such panels on a daily basis, said Ms McBreen-Kerr.

“Indeed, the Department has recently investigated an incident in which two panels, weighing 12 tonnes and 20 tonnes, were blown over while stored in ‘toast racks’. Fortunately no one was injured in that incident.”

“The racks can be used in a safe manner, and it is critical that employers make sure the racks are being used appropriately in order to ensure other workers don’t suffer serious injuries or death as a result of their use.”

“Employees should also have clear instructions regarding the use and limitations of ‘toast racks’,” Ms McBreen-Kerr said.

ENDS

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